Since joining the 62nd District eight seasons ago, Morgan County hadn’t won a district tournament game. On Thursday the Cougars found themselves on top of the 62nd District mountain.
Morgan County overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to defeat West Carter 64-58 to win its first 62nd District championship on Thursday at East Carter High School.
For Cougars coach Matthew Perry, it’s his fifth district championship overall, but the first since 2005 for the longtime Morgan County coach.
“It’s wonderful ... I’m just proud of my guys,” Perry said. “It took a gutsy effort to do this. We dug ourselves a huge deficit, and a lot of that is credit to West Carter. They absolutely came out on fire.”
West Carter went 18 of 24 from the field for a staggering 75 percent from the floor in the first half.
Kyle Brown led all scorers with 26 points in the game and had 17 points in the first half, many of which were contested by Morgan County defenders.
“We tried to make sure we made all his looks difficult,” Perry said. “He was hitting them right in our face. And I didn’t say a word on the bench and didn’t really get after my kids because they were right there.”
Along with Brown, the Comets got a big game from Jacob Layne, who scored 13 points. He had 11 in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting.
But while the Comets shot lights out in the first half, they couldn’t seem to buy a basket in the second half.
As Morgan County turned up the pressure, West Carter struggled to respond, shooting just over 18 percent from the field in the second half.
West Carter coach Jeremy Webb said it was the old cliché of a tale of two halves.
“That’s the best half we played this year,” Webb said. “But we turned it around with one of our worst halves. And when your shots are not falling you have to do a better job of executing on the offensive end. We took some ill-advised shots and tried to make some plays we weren’t capable of making and allowed Morgan to get some momentum.”
West Carter (9-19) scored only five points in the third quarter, with Brown attempting just two shots — both came under the one-minute mark on the clock.
“I told the guys you’re going to have to do a special effort on the defensive end to deny him,” Perry said. “We allowed him to get hot early ... but we did a good job of containing him in the second half.”
As Morgan County (22-7) picked up the defensive pressure, the Cougars still struggled to score the ball from the outside. They were 1 of 13 from 3-point range.
The Cougars made up with drives to the basket, and the post play of Alexsander Malinic. Malinic scored 16 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had eight putbacks.
Overall, Morgan County scored 38 points in the paint and also added 19 from the free-throw line.
“We have the ability to knock down jump shots, it just didn’t happen tonight,” Perry said. “But Aleksander has been big for us the past four or five ball games. Samuel (Aguirre) got in the lane, Jordan (Perry) got in the lane and we converted.”
Jordan Perry had a team-high 18 points for Morgan County and went a perfect 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Aguirre added 11 points while Jordan Whitt had 12 points and seven rebounds.
But in the end it was Malinic who helped seal the Comets’ fate. With the game tied at 54 with 2 minutes left, Malinic grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a layup with a foul.
Malinic’s play was followed by a Jordan Perry steal and a layup. That spelled the end of the West Carter’s chances to win its first district championship since 1999.
West Carter kicked off the 16th Region tournament Tuesday night facing Ashland. The Cougars meet up with long rival Morgan County Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.